Thanksgiving Side-Dish Face-Off 2: Traditional vs. New-to-Me vs. Modern

Green Bean Casserole: Where have you been all my life?

My name is Cavan and I’ve never made green bean casserole. That is, until a few nights ago, as part of my Thanksgiving Side-Dish Face-Off.

After spending a bit of time looking up fancy green bean casserole recipes — au gratin, lemon, horseradish, chestnuts — I realized was going about things the wrong way. If I really want to stack up a traditional Thanksgiving side dish, I have to make it like most Americans would, right? The classic way — frozen beans, condensed cream of mushroom soup and wonderful, wonderful fried onions.

I did not realize that this Thanksgiving icon was really as simple as that. How do people not eat this more often? I can see why it’s famous. Here are recipes for fancy and basic versions.

Of course, if you’re looking to impress on Thursday, green bean casserole isn’t going to win you any awards for creativity. But it’s pretty much guaranteed it will be devoured, and those points count more anyway.

In my side-dish quest, though, I wanted to stack it up against two other dishes: one that was new to me and one that’s a modern take with familiar ingredients.

Corn Pudding: I finally know what Foghorn Leghorn is talking about in the car insurance commercial I don't like.

And that’s how I met corn pudding. Again, this was another blind spot in my knowledge of Thanksgiving side dishes. I wanted to try a corn casserole or a spoonbread this year, and corn pudding seemed like a good mashup.

Corn pudding is not unlike a really soft cornbread with the sweetness built right in. It requires a bit more work than green bean casserole — I know, I know: more work than putting ingredients in a dish and baking? But stuck with me — from making a corn puree to whipping eggs to soft peaks. But after that, you’re right back to putting-ingredients-in-a-dish-and-baking.

The texture and flavor were quite nice, and it scores a few points for impressing guests, too, at least because it’s a throwback for some and a new idea to others. I was pretty sure it was making the cut for my Thanksgiving menu. Here’s the recipe I used.

Israeli Couscous with Asparagus and Butternut Squash: Yeah. It's seducing you right now, isn't it?

Finally, I wanted to take some familiar fall ingredients and introduce them to something you would’t expect at the Thanksgiving table. My idea: Israeli couscous with asparagus and butternut squash.

I have a bit of a problem with pearled couscous. I can plow through a Costco bag of it in a few days. I guess that’s true of almost anything, though, so perhaps I’m learning more about myself here than about couscous.

Anyhow, I’ve been making this dish for a few weeks now and love it. I roast the butternut squash with a little brown sugar, sautee the asparagus, cook the couscous in vegetable broth … then throw them all together with some lemon juice and olive oil. Easy. Delicious. Healthy. Oh my. It’s a bit of a shock how flavorful the couscous gets when you cook it in broth. That flavors plays well with the asparagus, and balance nicely with the squash and citrus. Here’s the recipe I started with.

Each dish could earn a spot at your Thanksgiving table, depending on what your ultimate goal is.

  • If you’re looking for something easy, rich, nostalgic and sure to be a crowd pleaser: Green Bean Casserole
  • If you want to try something new but still traditional, and get some pats on the back for your culinary prowess: Corn Pudding
  • If you want to impress people with something new (or something healthy, depending on your crowd): Israeli Couscous with Asparagus and Butternut Squash
  • If you want to get through the day: Bloody Mary Bar

Tomorrow: The dishes from our Thanksgiving Side-Dish Face-Off that earned a spot at our table.

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